Talonflame, a fire/flying Pokémon, took over the competitive scene after it was added to the monster compendium with Pokémon X & Y. For the last three years, wise competitive players made sure to prepare for Talonflame’s appearance on the enemy team. Everything changed after the release of Sun and Moon.
At first, many believed Talonflame was garbage. It was only until players wrapped their heads around the new mechanics that people understood Talonflame’s potential. X & Y added an ability called Gale Wings, which let Flying-type moves happen before most others. Talonflame also had access to one of the most powerful Flying-type attacks, Brave Bird, a move with a power of 120. With a damage boosting item (like a Life Orb or Choice Band), Brave Bird could tear through an opponent’s Pokémon with ease. Talonflame also couldn’t be outsped by other monsters with regular moves or items, making Talonflame one of the game’s best nukes.
On top of that, Talonflame was also a good support monster. Tailwind, which doubles the speed of a player’s entire team for multiple turns, can enable powerful but otherwise slow Pokémon to get their devastating attacks off before getting knocked out. In the hyper-offensive early days of the VGC 2014 season, Talonflame put in work.
Talonflame could be found on dozens of top-teams across multiple Regional Championship events, and it was used by a whopping 41.46 percent of competitors during that Winter. Its popularity died down until it was only on about 1/5th of all teams, but it was a key member of Se-jun Park’s World Championship team (yes, the one with Pachirisu).
2015 was the start of Talonflame’s initial decline, since the popularity of Intimidate and Rock Slide made it an extremely dangerous environment for the bravest of birds. But it had a resurgence in 2016, as a member of one of VGC’s most dominant archetypes: the Big 6 (Primal Groudon, Xerneas, Mega-Kangaskhan, Mega-Salamence, Smeargle, Talonflame). Since it was so important to attack first in that year’s metagame, Talonflame’s ability to set up Tailwind was crucial. Plus, its priority Brave Bird out-sped a powered-up Xerneas and its fire type resisted boosted fairy attacks.
During those few years atop the pile of powerful Pokémon, Talonflame built up a reputation for itself and became a notorious meme in the community. Some players reveled in spamming Brave Bird and others raged. Its popularity with Smogon players earned it the disdained “Smogonbird” moniker (with accompanying subreddit). VGC players even named a team in their unofficial National Pokémon Association after Talonflame.
Unfortunately, Talonflame must have flown too close to the sun, and it got nerfed to the ground in Sun and Moon. Nowadays, Gale Wings only gives Flying-type moves priority if the user is at full HP, meaning that a single point of damage takes away the quality that makes it special. That damage can come from opponents, weather, or even recoil from the very attack that made Gale Wings Talonflame so good in the first place. See the problem?
Having lost so much of its utility, its usual early-season popularity seems to have evaporated. To make matters worse, there are multiple Pokémon (Tapu Lele, Tsareena, Bruxish) that automatically protect themselves and allies from priority attacks. Players handled Talonflame’s new status with varying degrees of shock, amusement, and joy.
Talonflame still gets that one turn of priority, and it can use that to be one of the best Tailwind setters in the 2017 VGC format. Regardless, Talonflame was mostly absent within recent tournaments, so it’s clear the sun is setting on the brave bird’s glory days. Talonflame had a good run.
At the moment, while there aren’t any Pokémon being used in exactly the same way as Talonflame once was, there are plenty threatening to usurp its popularity. Celesteela is already beloved and abhorred by many, and in record time, no less. However, if all you’re looking for is literally another bird, then (and I can’t believe I’m writing this) Pelipper might be what you need. Whereas Talonflame’s ability was nerfed, Pelipper was buffed by letting it set up the rain with the Drizzle ability.
Actually, it’s almost fitting that this Fire type is being washed away by a Water type. It’s like some twisted, Poké-Darwinism.
Jason Krell is a freelance journalist, VGC player and editor-in-chief of the Saffron City Post.